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Raising the standards: Harbor East, Harbor Point stakeholders discuss their impact on Baltimore

Alex Smith sat on the stage of Monarque, a swanky cabaret-style French restaurant, and talked about the vision his grandfather, John Paterakis Sr., had for Baltimore and the Harbor East neighborhood he built on the water’s edge.

“He was somebody who believed in the city and believed in the region,” Smith said. “He just decided he was going to take the money he made in the baking business and build what’s here today. I admire him for that greatly. It’s our job to continue on the tradition.”

Smith, founder and president of Atlas Restaurant Group, has 16 restaurants in the city and doesn’t plan to stop there. He said each restaurant is striving to be more than a place to eat but rather a tourist destination where people will spend their money before venturing to other museums, performances and landmarks in the city. He said he’s trying to build on his grandfather’s legacy.

“We’re creating vision and hope for the city,” Smith said during the Baltimore Business Journal’s Future of Harbor East + Harbor Point panel discussion on Tuesday morning.

Smith’s optimism was echoed by his fellow panelists, all stakeholders in the burgeoning waterfront communities that have become known for their high-end residences, hotels, restaurants and office space.

Smith shared the stage with Amy Beall, the head of corporate real estate and workplace services at T. Rowe Price Group Inc.; Laurie Schwartz, executive director, Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore Inc.; Chris Seiler, director of marketing and communications, Beatty Development; and Chris Simon, co-owner of BLK Swan restaurant. The Baltimore Business Journal’s Melody Simmons, who covers commercial real estate and economic development, moderated the discussion.

The luxe Harbor East and Harbor Point neighborhoods, which will soon be home to a sprawling new home for T. Rowe Price, sit on what was formerly an industrial wasteland. Both areas between historic Fells Point and the Inner Harbor have been hailed by many for their potential to turn around Baltimore’s fortunes, but to others, the new development poses a threat to the traditional downtown core and the aging, dilapidated Harborplace.

But that wasn’t the view presented by the speakers at the Monarque. Instead, they focused on how the two neighborhoods, and all their amenities, will help Baltimore reach its true potential. They talked about how Harbor East and Harbor Point are trying to fit into the rest of Baltimore and spur more development along the way.

The proposed rejuvenation of Harborplace by developer P. David Bramble, and the successful redo of Rash Field across the water, will only cement the waterfront as the city’s key asset, they said. But they did temper their optimism with a call for the city to address its crime problem, which Smith pointed out is the reality and not “perception.”

“I think [Harbor East and Harbor Point] helped raise the standard back up to what we want to see around the waterfront,” said Schwartz, whose nonprofit manages the improvement district around the harbor.

She added, “I’m a cheerleader. I really think it’s all positive.”

Beall said the headquarters move for T. Rowe Price was all about the “vibrancy” of the Harbor Point development and that the investment giant doesn’t see its relocation as the company leaving the central business district (CBD).

“We see it as an extension of the CBD — not that we’re locating away from it,” Beall said, adding the move allows the firm to tailor its headquarters to its growing workforce.

T. Rowe Price (NASDAQ: TROW), now headquartered at 1 E. Pratt St., is departing the city’s central business district after 49 years. Michael Beatty, whose Beatty Development Group is a partner in the Harbor Point development, lobbied T. Rowe Price to consider the move. He had already attracted Exelon Corp.’s regional headquarters to the site.

Seiler, of Beatty Development, said the goal for Harbor Point is to make a walkable community where people of varying income levels live, work and have fun. The developer is also focused on the redevelopment of the former Perkins Homes public housing project that abuts Harbor East. Beatty and a team of developers plan to replace the blighted buildings with new mixed-income apartments and townhomes.

Seiler emphasized that no one is being displaced from the current community and that the developer is working with the community to be inclusive.

“It’s a huge ambitious dream,” Seiler said of the expansive waterfront community. “We are at the very beginning of that dream.”

Chris Simon, co-owner of BLK Swan, echoed the call for inclusivity, saying his Black-owned restaurant helps bring in a clientele that may have not ventured to Harbor East before. His restaurant is trying to pay homage to Baltimore, and even includes an upscale version of the city’s famed chicken box.

“We wanted to go into an area where businesses already exist and are thriving and provide an alternative service that wasn’t being provided, or that we wanted to provide in a different way,” Simon said.

Joanna Sullivan | Baltimore Business Journal

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